Crowdsourcing as the Future of Secret Cinema
With 46 ground-breaking events completed in over a decade and ambitious expansion plans on the horizon, immersive film company Secret Cinema should integrate crowdsourcing into all elements of its production. Crowdsourcing will enable Secret Cinema to continue to be a leader in the live entertainment space where the lines between creator and consumer are rapidly blurring.
Crowdsourcing as the Future of Secret Cinema
Secret Cinema, founded in 2007 in London, pioneered a new entertainment format: immersive film. The production company reimagines popular movies—Star Wars, Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet—as distinct four-hour events where audiences dress up as characters and actively participate in performances. The company resituates these performances from movie theater and computer screens, to “secret” and elaborate physical spaces—akin to fully-fledged film sets—drawing crowds of 5,000 attendees per night, paying up to $100 per ticket.
With 46 ground-breaking events completed in over a decade and ambitious expansion plans on the horizon, Secret Cinema should integrate crowdsourcing into all elements of its production. Crowdsourcing will enable Secret Cinema to continue to be a leader in the live entertainment space where the lines between creator and consumer are rapidly blurring.
I – Impact of Crowdsourcing on the Film Industry & Secret Cinema
Over the past several years, the film industry has seen a rise of the “creator consumer” and the increased collaboration among all players in the film ecosystem: creators, consumers, talent, and funding parties. More than ever before, audiences want to actively contribute to various aspects of filmmaking, including (1) production, (2) content creation, and (3) performance.
The growth of digital media platforms such as YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, as well as the growing rate of mobile penetration, have enabled the active contribution of consumers to filmmaking. One example is crowdfunding, where fans and filmmakers have collaborated on platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo to fund projects that traditional studios have ignored. Amazon has been a leader in crowdsourcing consumers for content decisions: over the past six years, consumers have voted via online poles on which Amazon pilots to greenlight for production. Secret Cinema—which already pioneers participatory performances—is perfectly positioned to embrace the megatrend of crowdsourcing and to further innovate its productions by embracing the ideas of its fans.
II – Secret Cinema’s Short & Medium Term Approaches
Secret Cinema is addressing crowdsourcing in the short term by providing opportunities for audience interaction and idea generation through its digital media channels. In the leadup period to a new production, the dedicated website and Instagram and Facebook channels tease details of the film and its secret location to audiences, generating buzz amongst prospective ticket-buyers; once the film has been announced, the channels are used as forums for ticket-holders to exchange ideas to prepare for their performance (e.g., character bios and ideas for costumes and props).
In the medium term, the channels will be used more broadly to position the company as a community of film enthusiasts, curating content on general trends in the film industry.
III – Additional Recommendations
Secret Cinema founder Fabien Riggal has revealed ambitious expansion plans for the company over the next several years:
- Geographic expansion to multiple cities around the world.
- Product expansion into new film formats, including original content production.
Given Riggal’s business strategy and the potential of crowdsourcing to enhance and differentiate the film experience for consumers, I recommend the following additional actions:
- Embrace crowdfunding. While Secret Cinema has broken even on its events, production costs are substantial. Crowdfunding would alleviate the financial burden of the performances and would build fan excitement, participation in the production process, and ultimately, brand loyalty.
- Introduce polls for fans to vote on films. This would create a stronger sense of ownership over the productions, further building brand loyalty and a sense of contribution to the production.
- Launch an open script contest. This would help build out Riggal’s original content strategy and would allow fans to become the creators behind the Secret Cinema experience.
IV – Open Questions
As Secret Cinema grows—and embraces crowdsourcing as a pillar of maintaining audience engagement and brand differentiation—some open questions remain:
- Who are Secret Cinema’s main competitors in the interactive entertainment space? How are they addressing the megatrend of crowdsourcing?
- Can original content be successfully created by “crowds,” or does it require a singular vision and the traditional role of a writer and/or director?
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Sinead Garvan. Secret Cinema: What inspired the creator of the interactive film event. BBC News (March 29, 2018).
Aiden Livingston. The Future of Film Has Its Head in the Crowds. Wired (November 2014).
Andrew Arnold. Convenience Vs. Experience: Millennials Love Streaming But Aren’t Ready to Dump Cinema Just Yet. Forbes (October 26 2017).
Zafar Anjum. Crowdsourcing is the future of film-making. Digital Empowerment Foundation (2017).
Andrew Liptack. Online voting for Amazon TV pilots. The Verge. (July 29 2018).
Wendy Mitchell. Secret Cinema chief talks future plans and global expansion. Screen Daily (October 11 2018).
Wendy Mitchell. Secret Cinema chief talks future plans and global expansion. Screen Daily (October 11 2018).
Student comments on Crowdsourcing as the Future of Secret Cinema
Very interesting read, I did not know Secret Cinema existed and would love to attend a showing! One question I would be very curious to know is that given the participatory nature of the showings and your recommendation of them being increasingly crowd sourced, how is the overall direction of the film controlled? Does a traditional director still exist or do participants have full autonomy to carry the film in a direction that they desire?
This is a very intriguing proposal, thanks for sharing! Although I’ve never been to a Secret Cinema event before, I have heard a lot of buzz around it, and am a big fan of this type of entertainment. One competitor in this space that I’m aware of is an immersive/interactive theater experience called Sleep No More by a British theater company called Punchdrunk. I attended it earlier this year in New York and loved it. I’m not exactly sure how or whether they use crowdsourcing as a way to engage audiences, but I agree that its a great way to solicit feedback on what direction to move in, in terms of new productions and geographic locations. As to your second question around crowdsourcing original content, my personal view is that this would be quite difficult to do. While crowdsourcing definitely helps to guide an idea or a vision, i think the end product is best created through one person or a group of people directly collaborating with one another.
I think that content can be successfully created by “crowds”, but it will still require a writer and a director to tie the concepts all together into a coherent vision. One way this could be implemented would be to run a competition to solicit ideas for the general overview of the plot. By providing the public with some basic information about the plot, the writer could then reach out to the public at various points to receive feedback about potential plot twists as well as provide opportunities for new ideas to be submitted. After the script is completed the director could then publish storyboards for various scenes to see which ones the public liked better. By taking this approach the public wouldn’t have perfect information about what the final product will look like. Therefore, they will still be excited to see the production and, if anything, their interest would be further piqued because they played a part in the production.
Really interesting article! Secret Cinema seems like it has developed a really engaging experience for its fans through its use of crowd sourcing. I think your idea for the script contest is really interesting, although I do have some reservations with that concept. It seems like Secret Cinema has strategically targeted “colt-classic” films like Star Wars and Moulin Rouge for its events. If they open up their repertoire to new concepts and scripts, will they be able to garner as much excitement for their events? Or should they limit these scripts to rewrites of classic films?
Great article! I have been to a couple of immersive theatre shows and they were incredible experiences. Audience interaction is extremely important, the differentiating factor for immersive theatre experience, and that is why I think it makes perfect sense to crowdsource ideas. I would be interested in learning about how they are planning to implement open innovation when expanding to different geographic locations, especially areas without an existing fan base, as I believe this will take some enthusiasts to understand how it works and put in recommendations.
Wow! Had no idea this existed. I’d be interested in knowing what you think the cons of this crowdsourcing approach are. It seems that some of the value-add of this model is the mystery/intrigue that comes behind not knowing where, or what type of film will be featured. The customers being served seem to be more of a niche market (highly interested in film/experience), and I wonder if crowdsourcing the selection of films might make this a more conventional experience and discourage the current target market to attend?
Very cool. I had never heard of this before or seen crowd-sourcing used in this sort of way. You’re right that it works well since the line “between creator and consumer are rapidly blurring.”
In particular, I think getting buy in is key so am a huge fan of the idea to “introduce polls for fans to vote on films.” As a consumer, I would find this experience very immersive and be excited to watch films I had helped vote/boost to get created.
I love this idea mainly for the immense opportunities it opens. The film industry lacks diversity, despite the large demand for more diverse films and casts. We saw this play out with Black Panther, Moonlight, and Invisible Figures over the last few years. By enabling viewers to have a voice in what films are produced, diversity expands. One concern I have is related to the consumer demand. Crowdsourcing art sounds challenging. How do we reach a broader audience to ensure diversity?
Interesting post. I am sceptical though of the extent to which content can be crowdsourced in the sense of input across a wide group of people – in part because a majority of people do not possess the requisite creative skills, but primarily because it is impossible to maintain a narrative thread across a population: here is one person’s take on their attempt to crowdsource a novel: https://www.cnet.com/news/4-lessons-i-learned-crowdsourcing-a-science-fiction-novel/.
Millennials like to believe they are curating their lives, and Secret Cinema allows them to do this through their “creator consumer” concept. I’ve personally loved my experiences with Sleep No More in New York and Shanghai and wish that I could go to London, or have Secret Cinema come to Boston, to participate. I honestly think HBS would be the ideal location for a Secret Cinema production…. business proposal?
I love this concept and thinks its fascinating as our generation is looking to spend money and time more on experiences more than anything else these days, and this appears to be an immersive experience to the extreme. My guess is secret cinema’s main competitors are more interactive experiences – such as escape the room and eating in the dark – as opposed to going to an actual play. To your second question, I think the idea for original content can be created by crowdsourcing but that an exceptional piece of entertainment won’t be as unique if the whole play or movie is crowdsourced, but hey, I’d be happy to be proven wrong!
Really fascinating! To answer your question about who is its key competitors, I’d would actually argue that it’s direct competitors are companies such as Emursive (which produces Sleep No More) and Third Rail Projects (which produces Then She Fell). Both of these companies are relatively small franchises today. I believe that Secret Cinema competes in an entertainment niche, and doesn’t directly compete with other large Broadway or Film production companies because those who are enthusiastic about acting are a subset of people who frequent shows or movies for a chill night out. In addition, I don’t view this as a experience customers would repeat on a monthly basis as they would, perhaps, visit the cinema. While costs are likely lower due to the lack of paid actors, because of the immersive element of Secret Cinema, it may be difficult to scale given each show has a fixed number of roles and the narrow target market as well as high customer acquisition costs.
Interesting post! I had no idea such a company was putting on productions like this! It does seem like it’d be a good candidate to benefit from crowdsourcing of ideas. Operationally, do you think crowdsourcing might cause problems for the development of new shows? I fear a little bit that an abundance of ideas might be difficult to filter and clearly identify the best themes from. One idea might be to use machine learning or some data analytics in combination with crowdsourcing of ideas to more quickly filter and tag the most popular or common suggestions.
Thank you very much. This is a very interesting piece. I think the original content can be successfully created by crowd. Not only does it helps generate buzz among the prospective customers, thereby increasing its revenues, it also can enhance the original/creative aspects of the cinema. However, one concern is that sometimes the audience doesn’t know what they want – they may throw in their ideas but if there are too many, then the content may have inconsistent theme or message.
Fascinating article! I think Nick Carraway brings up a great point regarding the target market for experiences like Secret Cinema, and how that market might be at odds with the potential for crowdsourced content. While I generally think there is huge potential for the crowdsourcing of original content, I wonder how Secret Cinema would be able to preserve its unique (and highly secretive) ambience while also generating content from large groups of people. I think this also raises additional questions about the kinds/genres of content that lend themselves to crowdsourcing, vs. those that require a more singular vision or the unique expertise of a creator. Could crowds have produced Moulin Rouge or Star Wars? Only time will tell!
Very interesting concept. This type of entertainment seems very fitting with many of the preferences of today’s generation. A few potential competitors that come to mind include Escape the Room, Improv Comedy, Drunk Shakespeare. These forms of entertainment are either immersive (Escape the Room) or look for audience input from time to time (Improv). These competitors, however, maintain control over the majority of the experience and script. My concern with crowd-sourcing content and create open source scripts is that this approach could actually seriously impact quality and negatively impact the brand or concept. Are there mechanisms that Secret Cinema could put in place in order to facilitate this type of engagement while still curating or controlling quality?
Great article! I had never heard of participatory entertainment previously. I think secret cinema should crowd source content – there is no better way to understand your consumers’ preference than have them tell you what you want! Of course, I think you still need a director to bring the vision to life but with direction of the target audience the director can produce even more powerful content that will resonate with the audience. Experiences are probably the biggest competitor to Secret Cinema right now – millenials have engaged with a trend of being willing to pay for “experience.” Consider AirBnB or Camp No Counselor. When paying for these lodging options, you are paying for an experience rather than just a bed. I think secret cinema should lean into this experience trend.
Crowd sourcing for secret cinema is a great idea. It’s such a big undertaking to organize, and given that you don’t know what it is before you attend these events, using crowd sourcing gives the attendees some assurance that it’s a popular movie that you would have seen or at least heard of or at the very least enjoy. Here is where the central limit theory likely holds – the idea that a large number of samples that are independent will likely yield to the “true” answer. In this case, crowd sourcing secret cinema movies will likely lead to a movie pick that is good and enjoyable, which means high customer satisfaction and good business for Secret Cinema.
In some sense, this feels like an outgrowth of the long-running and diffuse interactive experience of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That cult following seemed to spur the growth of “quote-alongs” run by theaters like the Alamo Drafthouse and even into the bigger types of events highlighted by the entertainer. I think as a business owner of Secret Cinema, it’s important to frame competition as a “share of attention” where it is competing against not just traditional film or direct competitors, but also sporting events, music performances or even streaming at home.
It’s certainly possible to generate original content by a crowd. Improv comedy has in some sense also done that for years. However, it might be difficult to scale in a traditional business sense as no script and performance will be the same – but therein lies the charm of it all.
Interesting article! The buzz in London around Secret Cinema is incredible! It’s fascinating how they draw a balance between the “secret” part and the vision while still creating a dedicated fan base who share ideas. I think that both are critical to success. Everyone loves the surprise nature of Secret Cinema – even when the theme is known and costumes decided, you never quite know what the production will involve. It’d be interesting to see if they could get fans more involved in the creative/ design experience but I think they’d need to be very careful about how open they choose to make it in order to keep the magic of the unknown.
This is a great article. Thanks for sharing. I think their main competitors are companies who produce passive, on-demand entertainment experiences such as Netflix, HBO, etc. My personal preference is towards entertainment that does not require additional effort. The more that companies such as Secret Cinema can draw consumers (such as myself) out of their homes into immersive experiences, the better (even if, at times, it means consumers attend businesses other than SC). It is all about creating consumer habits.